Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Eagles 7s Rosters Named for Hong Kong and Tokyo

USA Rugby named the rosters for Hong Kong and Tokyo 7s later this month and, as has been constant this entire iRB 7s series, change is the name of the game. Between overseas signings, the Pacific Rugby Premiership, and the Eagles 15s World Cup Qualifying matches against Uruguay, the pool isn't as deep as it has been for previous tour stops. This is a bit of a shame as the Eagles 7s team has but 4 tournaments left to secure some major points and ensure their core status for the 2014/2015 Olympic Qualifying series. Plus it was this time last year that the team truly gelled and put forth their best effort with three straight Plate championship appearances and notched an impressive win over Canada along the way. 

This isn't entirely a bad thing as the Eagles will get more players more game experience and have many options for the final UK leg of the iRB tour. I can't see having more players challenge for the rosters then, and over summer building into Gold Coast 7s 2014, as a bad thing. The RugbyMag article below breaks down the current team and I find Matt Hawkins's mention of developing U-20 players and bringing in more athletes to the OTC encouraging. Solidifying the pathways with Alex Magelby involved again - whether through regional development academies, programs like Tiger, Atlantis and the Stars, or via Serevi High Performance camps - will only help strengthen this squad in coming years.

Hopefully if the men contract 30 athletes in Chula Vista the women will be able to do the same. It is often stated that the women have the same operating budget, so as go the men, should go the women. Our women's Eagles need to qualify for Rio 2016 as well - albeit with a far easier pathway than the men - and also will get a 6th iRB 7s leg in next year's series. 

Player Selections From USA Rugby:

Eagles Selected for Next Two Series Stops

Eagles selected for next two Series stops

CHULA VISTA, Calif. – Men’s Eagles Sevens Head Coach Matt Hawkins has announced the 12-man squad to travel to Japan and China for the next two legs of the 2013-14 IRB HSBC Sevens World Series: Tokyo Sevens and Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens.

The sixth and seventh legs of the Series coincide with the Men’s Eagles’ Rugby World Cup 2015 Qualifier playoff against Uruguay March 22 and March 29, respectively, though Hawkins said he was not missing any players due to qualifying duties.

“There was no one we had any conflict over,” he said. “I’m happy to support Mike in qualifying for the World Cup.”

With Carlin Isles and Folau Niua having signed for RaboDirect Pro 12’s Glasgow Warriors, two spots opened from the squad that traveled to New Zealand for Wellington Sevens in February.
Marcus Satavu, in Residency as part of the World-Class Athlete Program, and Mike Te’o will suit up for the Eagles for the first time this season, while veteran Eagle Mike Palefau will rejoin the team after a good showing at the Las Vegas Invitational.

“Satavu is coming in more as a utility player,” Hawkins said. “He can play in the forwards as well as the backs. We didn’t really have a utility player in Wellington.

“Te’o has been working really hard and he’s still a young guy with a lot of positives. He’s still just learning to be more consistent with his play, but he’s been consistent in the last couple of months and is being rewarded with that with this opportunity to go on tour again.

“Palefau has always been on our radar. He’s someone who isn’t currently with us but I had the opportunity to watch him at the Coral Coast and the Las Vegas Invitational. He’s someone I’d like to get in and see how he does with the program now. He’s training with the guys this week before we head out.”

Palefau was a member of the Eagles for the final four legs of the 2012-13 IRB HSBC Sevens World Series, during which the team maintained core status for this year’s Series with three Plate Final appearances (Tokyo, Glasgow and London). He stayed with the team during its IRB Rugby World Cup Sevens 2013 campaign.

“At the end of the day, you can’t buy experience,” Hawkins said. “A guy like Mikey brings that and it’s fantastic to have it. The more you have it the better off you should be. We’re hoping that the experience he brings to the table is going to be really important, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Remaining a core team for this year’s Series was not a guarantee last season, as the Eagles were battling with Scotland for the final spot without having to go through a separate qualifying tournament.

The Eagles defeated Scotland in the Tokyo Sevens Plate Final and Argentina in the Glasgow Sevens Plate Final to avoid the second tournament at London Sevens. In London, the Eagles fell to Fiji in the Plate Final.
This year, the Eagles will not have to worry about losing their place on the circuit for the 2014-15 IRB HSBC Sevens World Series unless they finish last out of the 15 current core teams. After five rounds, the Eagles are in 14th ahead of Spain.

The Eagles are in Pool C with Fiji, France and Samoa, ranked third, 10th, and sixth, respectively. The first match for Hawkins’ men, against Samoa, will kick off from Tokyo Friday, March 21, at 9:22 P.M. ET. Watch live on Universal Sports and follow @USARugby on Twitter for match updates.

Pools for the Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens will be announced following the conclusion of Tokyo Sevens.

Men's Eagles Sevens | Tokyo Sevens/Cathay Pacific HSBC Hong Kong Sevens Roster
Danny Barrett
Garrett Bender
Andrew Durutalo
Nick Edwards
Pono Haitsuka
Madison Hughes
Ryan Matyas
Mike Palefau
Marcus Satavu
Mike Te'o
Zack Test
Brett Thompson
Men's Eagles Sevens | Tokyo Sevens
v Samoa - Friday, March 21 - 9:22 P.M. ET
v Fiji - Saturday, March 22 - 12:18 A.M. ET
v France - Saturday, March 22 - 4:30 A.M. ET

And a bit of analysis from Rugby Magazine:

Building Depth, Hawkins Deals with Player Questions
Sevens - USA Sevens Men

It's not a surprise, but USA 7s Head Coach Matt Hawkins will struggle to find players for the upcoming Tokyo 7s and Hong Kong 7s.

With Shalom Suniula and Andrew Durutalo suiting up for 15s teams (Seattle-OPSB and OMBAC, respectively), one wonders if they are looking at 15s World Cup prospects - certainly Suniula will be in the USA camp upcoming, and Mike Tolkin has said he is interested in Suniula as a scrumhalf/flyhalf hybrid much like Tolkin himself used to win the 2008 Super League title at NYAC.

Add to that the fact that Folau Niua and Carlin Isles are  playing in Glasgow (Isles is reportedly going to be available for 7s, but, as we've seen, plans change), and you've got a recipe for change.

The USA won the Plate in Tokyo in 2013, but more than half of thise team won't be back a year later.
The USA won the Plate in Tokyo in 2013, but more than half of thise team won't be back a year later.
In fact, of the 12 men who won the Plate at the Tokyo 7s in 2013, only four - Nick Edwards, Zack Test, Durutalo, and Brett Thompson, are highly likely to be on the trip this year.

Hawkins is not panicking - this is why he expanded the list of players, and why Alex Magleby is working on the team pathway.

"From my perspective it's a continual pattern - players going to play professionally in 15s," Hawkins told "It's a good thing for our program. I hope a lot of kids see that they can use the 7s team to further their rugby career; see that guys have come here, done well, and signed contracts. I think that's fantastic. That's also why we've got 25 players in residency."

Hawkins actually wants more. He wants some of the U20s in residency and to get the numbers up to 30 or so.

"Then with those guys and the Development Academies we will have a real support structure," the coach said. "When you bring players into camp and you've got only 14, you can't play against each other. The numbers just aren't there. We have to develop these numbers."

Adding to the numbers issue for Hawkins is the fact that the USA 15s team is in assembly starting now. There's been a little back-and-forth between Tolkin and Hawkins, but both coaches say it's good communication. From those discussions it was decided that Danny Barrett would have more opportunity for playing time with the 7s team, given how stacked the USA team is with veteran loose forwards.

Nu'u Punimata and Stephen Tomasin are carrying injuries, opening up spots. It's possible Hawkins will take something of a flyer with Thretton Palamo. The former Eagle has been playing football at the University of Utah, and certainly in doing so developed different habits and a different type of fitness. But he is also a special athlete, and could be an impact sub.

Rookie Madison Hughes looked in Wellington as if he's been there all along. The highly-poised Dartmouth star has some schooling to finish, so that's a question, also.

But several players have emerged through this weird season when Hawkins has blooded a number of athletes. Pono Haitsuka has grown from a small, fast guy who seemed a little confused to a confident, and physically stronger man who is still plenty speedy. Garrett Bender is another guy who has matured. He struggled in his first time with the USA team under Alex Magleby. But time away to learn some things and let the hunger develop has helped him enormously. Both of those players found themselves starting on Day Two in Wellington, and that's no coincidence.

Central to the team remains Zack Test and Nick Edwards. Edwards has been the captain, and is close to Hawkins. He has also found himself on and off the starting lineup. When he is playing with confidence and distributing as well as attacking, he can create victories. Test can be almost anything he wants to be on the 7s field - a power forward, a wing, a kicker, a defensive specialist. When he brings all of those to the fore, he is one of the best.

But he is also someone who takes a while to fully trust those around him. If he trusts he (relatively) new teammates, and those teammates earn that trust, that will bode well for the Eagles.

What does seem clear, though, is that the USA squad will have another new player on the plane to Asia. It could be Palamo, or Ben Leaatigaga, or Will Holder, Mike Ziegler, or Nese Malifa. There are all sorts of options for Hawkins.

Maybe he didn't want to have to make such decisions now, but seems to have expected it all along.

The Tokyo 7s kicks off Friday, March 21 for USA fans. The Eagles' first game is against Samoa at 10:22am local time, which is 9:22pm EDT, 6:22pm PDT. They play Fiji three hours later, and France at 4:30am Saturday March 22 EDT, which is 1:22am PDT.

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